Why Is Coffee In The US So Bad? (Overview & FAQ)

I’ve tasted coffee in both the States and Europe, and sorry USA – but the brews I had in France, the UK and Germany were far superior. So why is US coffee so bad?

Despite having a Starbucks or equivalent on every corner in every town, finding a truly tasty cup of Joe in the US can be a challenge, and historically many factors contribute to this.

Coffee quality in the US is influenced by the types of beans used, the roasting and brewing process, and customer preferences.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into these factors to understand why Americans have settled for less-than-stellar coffee and explore ways to get a better cup of the black stuff…

Why Is Coffee In The US So Bad?

The History of Coffee in the US

How Coffee Became Popular

Coffee became popular in the States way back in the 1600s, when it became widely consumed in New England.

n 1670, Welsh immigrant, Dorothy Jones, was issued the first coffee license in Boston, with the official paperwork announcing “Mrs Dorothy Jones, the wife of Mr. Morgan Jones, is approved of to keepe a house of publique Entertainment for the selling of Coffee & Chochaletto.” From there on coffee moved from being a niche interest to a revolution.

The Boston Tea Party in 1773 was then a further pivotal event that aided a shift in the popularity of coffee over tea. Americans started seeing coffee as a symbol of independence and patriotism, further contributing to its widespread acceptance.

The Influence of Instant Coffee

As time passed, coffee consumption in the US witnessed significant changes, the chief of these being the rise of instant coffee.

Due to its convenience, instant coffee became increasingly popular, especially during the Second World War when it was supplied in soldiers’ rations.

After the war, coffee roasting methods and the quality of beans began to decline. Companies like Folgers focused on producing lower-grade, cheaper coffee blends that were consistent but lacked the nuanced flavors and aromas of higher-quality beans.

The low price of coffee in the late 20th century, partially due to the suspension of The International Coffee Agreement [ICA], meant that lower-quality beans flooded the market and gourmet coffee was further marginalized in the States. Therefore, instant coffee grew rapidly in popularity across the country.

This film is excellent on the history of coffee and the first, second and third wave of coffee culture in the US:

Quality of Coffee Beans

In this section, we’ll explore two factors that contribute to the perceived lower quality of coffee in the United States: sourcing and processing, and the problem with Robusta beans.

Sourcing and Processing

One of the reasons for the lower quality of coffee in the US is linked to the sourcing and processing methods.

Many American coffee companies prioritize price over quality, which can lead to the use of cheaper, lower-grade beans or lower-quality processing methods. This affects the flavor and overall experience of the coffee.

Moreover, mass-production practices adopted by large-scale coffee companies often result in standardized roasts and blends that sacrifice the unique flavors and nuances of individual coffee beans.

The willingness to forego artisanal approaches in favor of convenience and quantity means that many coffee drinkers miss out on some truly remarkable and diverse flavors from around the world.

The Problem with Robusta Beans

Another factor contributing to lower-quality coffee in the US is the prevalence of Robusta beans.

While Arabica beans are generally considered to be higher quality in terms of flavor and aroma, Robusta beans are more pest-resistant and yield a higher crop output. As a result, Robusta beans are often cheaper to produce and are widely used in mass-produced coffee products.

Robusta beans have some distinct characteristics:

  • Higher caffeine content
  • More bitterness due to higher levels of chlorogenic acids
  • Less complex and nuanced flavors

These factors can lead to a harsher, less enjoyable coffee experience when compared to high-quality Arabica beans.

It’s important to note that not all Robusta beans are inherently bad, but when they are used primarily for cost-saving measures in mass-produced coffee, the overall quality of the coffee products is negatively affected.

Roasting Techniques

As an avid coffee drinker, I often wonder why coffee in the US doesn’t always taste the best. In this section, I want to focus on the roasting techniques and how they impact the coffee quality.

Dark Roast vs. Light Roast

When it comes to roasting coffee beans, there are mainly two roast levels: dark and light. Dark roasting results in a strong, bold flavor with less acidity, while light roasting retains more of the bean’s natural flavors and acidity.

Personally, I prefer light roasts as they allow me to fully appreciate the unique characteristics of each coffee bean.

However, American coffee culture has traditionally leaned towards dark roasts, mainly due to the influence of large coffee chains like Starbucks. The dark roast preference has led to a loss of nuance in flavor and, unfortunately, coffee that sometimes tastes burnt or overly bitter.

Mass Production and Consistency

Mass production techniques have played a major role in making American coffee somewhat lackluster. In an effort to meet the high demand, commercial coffee roasters often opt for a one-size-fits-all approach. This involves using a standardized roasting method and prioritizing consistency over quality.

Furthermore, many commercial roasters source cheaper, lower-quality beans to cut costs. These beans usually produce a less desirable flavor. As a result, the general coffee taste in the US is often compromised.

In contrast, artisanal coffee roasters, like the ones you might find in specialty coffee shops, take a more tailored approach. They seek out high-quality beans and develop specific roasting profiles to bring out the best flavors in each bean. This level of attention to detail yields a far superior cup of coffee, in my humble opinion.

Brewing Methods

As we dive into the world of coffee in the US, we must consider the key factors that contribute to the quality of the brew. Two common brewing methods in the US are drip coffee machines and a general lack of espresso culture. Let’s take a closer look at these brewing methods and their impact on the final product.

Drip Coffee Machines

Drip coffee machines are popular in the US as they offer convenience and ease of use. However, they often produce a less-than-stellar cup of coffee. One reason for this is that many drip machines don’t reach the optimal water temperature of 190-205 degrees Fahrenheit.

Another issue with drip machines is that they don’t always provide an even distribution of water over the coffee grounds. This can result in uneven extraction, making some parts of the coffee taste over-extracted while others taste under-extracted.

Additionally, gravity-based brewing methods, such as drip machines, may not capture the full flavor profile of the coffee beans, as mentioned by Coffee Brewster.

A Lack of Espresso Culture

Espresso, the backbone of many delicious coffee drinks enjoyed around the world, is not as ingrained in the US coffee culture as it is in countries like Italy. This can partially explain the inferior quality of coffee in the US.

Espresso extraction requires proper equipment, technique, and knowledge of the coffee beans being used. Espresso machines are not as widespread in American households as drip coffee makers, which can lead to a gap in our understanding of what makes a great espresso shot.

Furthermore, the US fascination with large coffee sizes could be to the detriment of the quality of espresso, as larger sizes can dilute the intensity and flavor of the original shot.

How to Find Good Coffee in the US

Although it might be challenging to find exceptional coffee at every corner in the US, there are a few strategies to improve your chances of discovering delicious, well-roasted coffee.

Third Wave Coffee Movement

One way to find good coffee in the US is by exploring the Third Wave Coffee Movement. This movement focuses on treating coffee as an artisanal food, rather than a commodity, encompassing every aspect of coffee – from farming to roasting to brewing.

By searching for Third Wave coffee shops in your area, you can generally expect to find coffee grown in the best conditions, roasted with precision, and brewed professionally.

Supporting Local Roasters and Cafes

Another approach to finding quality coffee is to support local roasters and cafes. Many cities have local businesses that take pride in roasting their beans and maintaining high standards in brewing techniques.

By supporting these establishments, you’re not only obtaining better coffee, but also contributing to your local community and economy.

Here are a few tips for identifying local roasters and cafes:

  • Research online for nearby roasters and independent coffee shops.
  • Look for cafes advertising direct trade or relationship coffee, which usually indicates a focus on high-quality beans.
  • Ask café baristas about their coffee sourcing, roasting, and brewing techniques; passionate professionals will be eager to share their knowledge.
  • Join local coffee enthusiast groups or events to discover new coffee spots and share your love for the beverage.

By staying informed and actively seeking out quality coffee experiences, you can confidently find good coffee in the US and enjoy every cup to the fullest.

Why is Coffee Different in America?
Why is Coffee Different in America?

US Coffee Quality FAQ

Why is Coffee Different in America?

Coffee in America is different from other countries due to the influence of the specialty coffee movement, which has led to the rise of artisanal cafes and a focus on high-quality, single-origin beans. However, this trend has not yet permeated mainstream coffee culture, which still largely relies on mass-produced, low-quality coffee.

Why is American Coffee So Sour?

American coffee can often taste sour due to the use of light roasts and high-acidity beans. This is a deliberate choice made by many specialty coffee roasters, who believe that lighter roasts allow the unique flavors of the beans to shine through.

Is American Coffee Watered Down?

American coffee is sometimes perceived as watered down due to the prevalence of drip coffee, which is brewed with a higher water-to-coffee ratio than other brewing methods. However, this is not necessarily a negative thing, as it allows for a milder, more approachable cup of coffee.

Is Coffee Different in America?

Yes, coffee is different in America compared to other countries, due to factors such as bean quality, roasting methods, and brewing techniques. Additionally, the American preference for large, sweetened drinks with added flavors sets it apart from other countries’ coffee cultures.

Why Do Italians Make Such Good Coffee?

Italians are known for making good coffee due to their focus on quality ingredients, traditional brewing methods, and attention to detail. The Italian espresso culture has become famous worldwide, with many cafes and baristas striving to replicate the perfect shot.

Why is European Coffee So Good?

European coffee is often considered good due to the emphasis on quality beans, traditional brewing methods, and a focus on the art of the barista. Additionally, European coffee culture places a high value on taking time to enjoy a cup of coffee, rather than rushing through it.

Which State in the US is Known for Coffee?

While no single state in the US is known for coffee, there are several regions that have developed their own unique coffee cultures, such as the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast.

What is the Coffee Culture in USA?

The coffee culture in the US is diverse and constantly evolving. While mainstream coffee culture still largely relies on mass-produced, low-quality coffee, the rise of specialty coffee has led to a greater appreciation for high-quality, single-origin beans and artisanal brewing methods.

Why Don’t Europeans Drink Drip Coffee?

Europeans tend to prefer espresso-based drinks over drip coffee because they believe it provides a more concentrated and flavorful cup of coffee. Additionally, drip coffee is often associated with a faster, on-the-go lifestyle, while Europeans prefer to take their time and savor their coffee.

Why Do Westerners Drink So Much Coffee?

Westerners drink so much coffee because it provides a quick and convenient source of caffeine, which is often necessary to keep up with busy and demanding lifestyles. Additionally, the social aspect of coffee culture has led to the rise of coffee shops as popular meeting places and hangout spots.

Why is American Coffee Diluted?

American coffee is often perceived as diluted due to the prevalence of large, watery drinks such as iced coffee and cold brew. However, this is not necessarily a negative thing, as these drinks can provide a refreshing and less intense alternative to hot coffee.

How Do Americans Prefer Coffee?

Americans prefer coffee in a variety of ways, including black, with cream and sugar, and in specialty drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos. The rise of specialty coffee has also led to a greater appreciation for single-origin beans and artisanal brewing methods.

When Did America Become Coffee Drinkers?

America became a nation of coffee drinkers in the 18th century, with the rise of coffeehouses and the popularity of tea declining due to political tensions with England. Coffee became a symbol of American independence and patriotism.

What Coffee Do Most Americans Drink?

The most popular coffee in America is drip coffee, followed by espresso-based drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos. However, the rise of specialty coffee has led to a greater appreciation for single-origin beans and artisanal brewing methods.

Why Do Americans Drink Coffee Vs Tea?

Americans drink coffee instead of tea because of historical and cultural factors, including the Boston Tea Party and the rise of coffeehouses as social and political gathering places.

What Percentage of Americans Like Coffee?

According to a recent survey, 64% of Americans drink coffee on a daily basis. This percentage has remained relatively stable over the past decade.

Why Do Americans Like Filter Coffee?

Americans like filter coffee because it is convenient and easy to make, and provides a milder and less intense cup of coffee than other brewing methods. Additionally, the rise of drip coffee has led to the development of a unique American coffee culture.

Why Did America Switch to Coffee?

America switched to coffee in the 18th century due to political tensions with England and the rise of coffeehouses as social and political gathering places. Additionally, coffee was seen as a symbol of American independence and patriotism.

Why is American Coffee So Sugary?

American coffee can be sugary due to the popularity of flavored syrups and sweetened milk in specialty drinks such as lattes and frappuccinos. Additionally, many mainstream coffee chains add sugar and other sweeteners to their coffee to appeal to a wider audience.

However, this trend is changing with the rise of specialty coffee, which emphasizes the natural flavors of high-quality beans and minimizes the use of added sweeteners.


In the end, it seems that the inferior quality of coffee in the US could be attributed to factors like the widespread preference for convenience and lower prices over taste, as well as the dominance of large chains brewing mass-produced coffee.

Additionally, cultural differences in taste preferences can lead to American coffee being perceived as worse than its international counterparts.

While it’s true that some establishments prioritize speed and low costs, this doesn’t mean all American coffee is terrible. There are undoubtedly local cafes and specialty roasters that are dedicated to providing high-quality coffee experiences for discerning consumers.

It’s up to us as individuals to seek out these gems and support businesses that care about the quality of their products.

By being more mindful of our coffee choices and, when possible, opting for better quality beans or brewing methods, we can work to elevate the standard of coffee in the US.

Remember, good coffee is not impossible to find, but it might require a little extra effort to uncover those hidden treasures. So it looks like my search for a good old American cuppa joe continues! 🙂